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Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Nature plundered


MALAYSIA has been identified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as one of 12 mega diversity areas in the world; these are areas that are very rich in plant and animal species. At the last count made by the organisation in 1994, there are – brace yourself! – 15,000 species of flowering plants, 286 species of mammals, over 150,000 species of invertebrates, over 1,000 species of butterflies, 12,000 species of moths, 700 species of birds, 300 species of reptiles, 165 species of amphibians, 300 species of freshwater fish, and 4,000 species of marine creatures. Phew.

Impressive list isn’t it? And these are only the species we know about. We don’t know how many other undiscovered creatures or plants are hiding in the depths of our rainforests, perhaps holding within their cells the cure for AIDS or cancer or even wrinkles.

Star Online Pix alt
ALL QUIET ON THE BAKUN FRONT...serenity reigns downstream of the massive Bakun hydroelectric Dam project in eastern Sarawak. The project which cost RM9bil, clear more than 60,000ha and displace almost 9,000 natives - was shelved during the region`s 1997-98 financial crisis but was revived this year, albeit downsized. The area is home to more than 800 species of plants, including 67 protected species, and more than 300 species of fishes, mammals and birds - of which 43 are rare and totally protected. You don`t have to be a rocket scientist to know that most of the wildlife will be jeorpadiosed by the project.--Reuters.
This is a record we should be proud of, one that we should treasure. But we don’t.

By 2020, almost half of all mammals and a quarter of all birds in Malaysia will face extinction. According to a 1996 report entitled Capacity Building and Strengthening of the Protected Areas System in Peninsular Malaysia: A Masterplan, the number of threatened animals on the peninsula tripled between 1986 and 1996, reaching 38 species, which is 18% of all mammals. If that rate continues, by 2020, the number of threatened animals will reach more than 40%. And we have only 286 types of mammals.

The report, prepared from a study funded by Denmark’s Co-operation for Environment and Development, is based on data pooled from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Malaysian Nature Society and local scientists.

According to the report, loss of habitat, changes in the quality of habitats and their fragmentation have accelerated the rate at which species become threatened. There was, for instance, an increase of almost 34% in logged areas from 1998 to 1999 in Peninsular Malaysia, says the 1999 Forestry Department’s annual report. Data for Sabah and Sarawak are sketchy – as usual – but massive projects like the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam Project in Sarawak and huge timber concession areas and forest-to-plantation conversions there and in Sabah indicate an even a bigger increase in habitat loss and change.

Those are forested areas. What of riverine areas, highlands and lowlands, coastal environments, and the wetlands? All these areas are facing incredible pressure from the rush to develop this country.

We see the results of that pressure every time there is a water crisis, or flash flood, or polluted skies. Clearing forests in the highlands affects watersheds, those areas that are necessary for clean water supplies; clearing vegetation and increasing siltation as well as “concretising” land inevitably causes flash floods. It’s all been said before. Miles of text have been written about how the indifferent way we treat the environment affects us all – clear virgin jungle in Sabah, add to global warming problems, melt Arctic ice, and watch sea levels rise to engulf that ritzy holiday home in Port Dickson, Negeri Sem-bilan. Simplistic, yes, but essentially a true picture.

Keep that picture in mind as you look at the following – by no means exhaustive – list of pictures of habitats that have, over the years, sustained grievous bodily harm. Perhaps images will touch a responsive chord where words have not. For when it comes down to it, development is carried out in your name and mine, for the good of the citizens. It is our materialistic lifestyles, our need for more houses, more products, more of everything that the government and industry cater to. Perhaps these pictures will move you to think twice the next time you reach out to buy something you don’t really need.

PHOTO GALLERY: Trail of destructions

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